Over the past few months I’ve visited with thousands of Oklahomans who are concerned about how the health care reform bills moving through Congress will affect their lives and their families’ lives. Politicians in Washington have talked a good game about pursuing common reform goals, such as reducing costs and improving access and quality. Unfortunately, the plan backed by congressional leaders not only falls far short of the goals of reform, but will place new burdens on families, seniors and state agencies.
First, the plan’s sponsors have claimed that if you like what you have you can keep it. That isn’t true. You may be forced to drop your current plan, especially if Congress includes an aggressive “public option” – a government run health plan. According to one estimate by the Lewin Group, if the public option language in the bill passed by the House of Representatives becomes law as many as 40 percent of Americans could lose their private insurance and be forced into a government-run plan. The public option has been scaled back in subsequent versions of the legislation but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has very clearly stated she wants the final bill to include the strongest possible public option. “There is no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without a public option,” she said.
If you do manage to keep to what you have, you can expect to pay significantly higher premiums, according to ten separate government and independent studies. A self-employed Oklahoman or one working for a small business could see a premium increase of $1,600 annually, or $4,400 for a family policy. Small business owners could pay an extra $814 per employee to cover each of their employees, or they could face penalties imposed on them by the IRS.
Seniors will be hit hardest by the so-called reform bills. One out of every eight seniors in Oklahoma is enrolled in a program called Medicare Advantage, which provides Medicare patients with greater choices. Seniors enrolled in that program in our state – more than 81,000 seniors – could be forced to drop their plan and pick up the tab for any benefits they will lose. Bill sponsors are justifying cutting Medicare because it will supposedly help “pay for” reform. If congressional leaders were serious about paying for their plan they would eliminate their pet projects and some of the $350 billion government wastes every year. Instead, they are hoping to pay for their plan on the backs of seniors who are enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program they oppose on ideological grounds.
The bills will also place enormous new burdens on state agencies in Oklahoma, which are already facing five percent monthly reductions for the rest of the fiscal year because of declining state revenues. Provisions in the plan expanding Medicaid will force the state of Oklahoma to come up with at least $100 million in additional funds. It’s wrong for politicians in Washington who refuse to prioritize spending to outsource hard choices and fiscal responsibility to individuals, states and local communities.
Adding insult to injury, congressional leaders are expecting taxpayers in Oklahoma to subsidize the re-election campaigns of Senators representing the states of Michigan, Nevada, Oregon and Rhode Island, all of which are exempted from additional Medicaid expenses for five years.
Every Oklahoman can expect to pay higher taxes if this plan passes. When the plan is implemented in 2013 thousands of state employees will be forced to pay an additional $1,100 in taxes every year because their plans will be considered too generous and will be hit with an excise tax.
Yet, what is even more troubling than what we know about the reform bills is what we don’t know. Congress has a terrible track record of estimating the long term costs of government health programs. For instance, when Medicare was created in 1965 Congress predicted it would cost $12 billion in 1990. Instead, it cost $110 billion in 1990. Medicaid now costs 37 times what it did when it was launched in 1965; Medicare 16 times, both adjusted for inflation. If Congress’ projections are off again income tax rates will skyrocket.
I believe health care needs to be reformed which is why I introduced a bill several months ago called the Patients’ Choice Act that empowers individuals rather than government bureaucrats. My plan gives every American access to high-quality plans, reduces health care costs, promotes prevention and lets doctors and patients decide what is best. Real reform is possible but the current plan is not real reform. America has the best health care in the world but it is far too costly. Unfortunately, the leading plan will destroy what is working in American health care and make existing problems, such as cost, worse for most Americans.
With the health care bills moving toward a vote in Congress I encourage you to keep up the pressure on Washington. Because you have made your voices heard, the bills have been moderated somewhat from the versions that were released this summer. Yet, Oklahomans should have no illusions about the goals of the politicians leading this process. This effort is about moving the country as close as possible to a single-payer, health care system run by the government and paid for by higher taxes and premium costs for every American. Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama will take as big an incremental step toward their ultimate goal they believe they can get away with.
I can promise you that I’ll be on the Senate floor every possible moment conveying both my experience as a practicing physicians and the common sense I’ve heard from people across our state. It’s time for Washington to keep the promises it has already made rather than making new promises we can’t afford.